Caritas Westminster calls on PM to halt next week’s planned Universal Credit cut

In just a few days the government is expected to make the biggest overnight cut to social security in the last 70 years when they cut Universal Credit by £20 a week on 6th October.

Caritas Westminster has joined with over a thousand church leaders to write to the Prime Minister and ask him to think again about taking away £1,040 a year from low income families. The letter, coordinated by Church Action on Poverty and Christians Against Poverty, calls for the Government to “choose to build a just and compassionate social security system that our whole society can have confidence in.”

Emergency food relief projects in the Diocese of Westminster have shared their concerns about the cut with Caritas Westminster. One volunteer from a North London Parish food bank told us:

“we have been supporting hundreds of people weekly throughout the pandemic and now that we are emerging from it we do need to give people a chance to get their lives back on track and not plunge them into further debt … The effect of cutting universal credit at a time where people are trying to get out of poverty is extremely damaging and will have a knock on effect on the ability for individuals and families to get through the autumn and winter months.”

At this food bank volunteers have seen huge increases in demand over the last 18 months. A recent survey of a 100 of their clients found only one person was not in receipt of Universal Credit, legacy benefits or state pension. Even before the cut comes in, these clients are unable to get by on the state support they receive and have to turn to food banks for emergency help. The cut will only push them further into poverty and insecurity.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. Across the Diocese of Westminster, Caritas says it has seen high levels of food insecurity and parish and school food relief projects working hard to ensure no one goes hungry. Between April – June 2021 more than 50,000 meals and food parcels were distributed by just 35 parishes and schools. Already, 43 per cent of these food relief projects are reporting low income as one of the top issues affecting those they serve.

“A further reduction in income will only serve to make this need worse,” says Caritas.

As the cut comes closer we face the perfect storm with the furlough scheme ending, energy prices rising, a shortage of hauliers affecting our food supply, and an upcoming increase to National Insurance. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation predicts that with the cut to Universal Credit and the rising cost of living the average low income family will soon be £1,750 worse off a year.

As another volutneer running a parish food bank in London said:

“what has been more worrying in the last few weeks, is that we have seen a 30% increase in demand for food, with more of our clients losing their jobs, as furlough comes to an end. The withdrawal of the £20 universal credit payment next month will have a dramatic impact on the families that we serve and I worry we will see yet another spike in the demand for food in the coming weeks.”

Caritas Westminster has been encouraging people to write to their MPs and ask them to stop the cut to Universal Credit and keep the lifeline it provides. Please join them by using their template letter to make sure your MP knows what this cut will do to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, and urge them to take action to stop it.

Read the letter to the Prime Minister here. (signed by John Coleby, Director of Caritas Westminster and Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, Chair of the Westminster Diocese Justice and Peace Commission.)

If you want to know more about food relief in the Diocese of Westminster, and get further involved in food resilience work, join Caritas’s Network for people involved in food relief projects. Contact the Caritas Food Collective

You may also be interested in Firm Foundations, their project aimed at increasing financial resilience.